Weekly Columns

As summer vacation planning is underway, the fragile economy is forcing us all to reevaluate how much we spend which impacts where we travel. Vacations are certainly nice, but not essential.  When money is tight, big vacation plans are often the first thing cut from the family budget.  You might expect then, to see difficult times ahead for the tourism sector.  It seems, however, to be having the opposite effect. 

Travel and tourism is one of America’s largest industries and it’s a bright spot in the economy. In 2011 it grew at 3.5 percent, the highest rate of growth for the industry in the past five years. Travel and tourism contributes $1.9 trillion to our economy and supports 14.4 million American jobs including nearly 60,000 in Arkansas. In 2011, tourism accounted for $124 billion in tax revenues for local, state and federal governments. 

Arkansas tourism followed national trends and experienced growth in 2011 despite a sluggish economy. According to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, last year more than 23 million visitors traveled to the state generating $297 million in state taxes and $108 million in local taxes.  

It is clear that tourism and travel is important to our economy. In recognition of the critical role of this industry, the first full week is May is recognized as National Travel and Tourism Week, a tradition started in 1984 after Congress passed a joint resolution in 1983 designating this week. 

Regional tourism campaigns have helped draw more people to Arkansas. The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism credits some of the increase to an initiative passed by the state legislature in 1989 that provides more funds for advertising. 

Arkansas is a tourist destination with a lot to advertise. Hot Springs—with its spas, historic downtown and famous presidential sites—recently announced March was its biggest tourism month in history. Rogers was newly named one of the top 10 cities for affordable vacations by Livability.com, a national website that highlights more than 500 of America’s best places to live. The website cited local entertainment options and the community’s proximity to two major state parks—Beaver Lake and Hobbs State Park as a major draw. It’s a perfect example of how the wonderful outdoor spots that we have been blessed with in the Natural State help us draw in tourists.  

Late last year we celebrated the opening of the state of the art Crystal Bridges in Bentonville. This new art museum is a tremendous investment that will open new economic and educational opportunities for the state. This world class facility rivals art collections of the world’s greatest museums. We’re proud that this Arkansas museum will be included on the list of great cultural institutions and it will also boost economic activity and tourism in the state. 

As we work to put our economy back on the path to prosperity, we must work to maintain a robust travel and tourism industry which is an important component. The more we highlight that, the more people become aware of all that Arkansas offers vacationers. That awareness will result in more revenue for our state.